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I'll Be Seeing U
By Dianne Castell
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 Dianne Kruetzkamp
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDriving to O'Fallon's Landing in a fourteen-year-old robin's-egg blue Buick station wagon complete with God Is Coming and She's Pissed bumper sticker was not the way Cynthia Landon intended to return home. Where was the stretch limo to ballyhoo her great New York success as a designer? The warm summer day when she could drive proudly through town, waving through the rolled-down windows?
Gone! Along with all of her other great plans and hard work of the last ten years. "Good-by Fifth Avenue, hello backwater Tennessee," she murmured into the darkness as rain splattered the two-lane. She glanced at her eight-year-old son sleeping in the passenger side, head bobbing, seat belt holding him upright. She smiled in spite of the situation. Lawrence made all her messes seem not quite so ... messy, and he was the only true thing Aaron had ever given her besides bankruptcy and a rotten marriage. If they fished his sorry lying cheating ass out of the East River someday soon that would be just fine with her.
Lightning split the sky, the Mississippi rolled wild and rough to her left, and something darted in front of her. "What the ..."
She hit the brakes, skidded and swerved. "Damnation!"
"Hold on, Lawrence!" The car slowed but did a one-eighty and slidinto the ditch as the airbag exploded, flattening her to the back of the seat before fizzling across her lap. She looked at Lawrence through the darkness, no white blob on his lap. Oh hell!
Fumbling for the interior lights with one hand she held his chin in her other hand. "No bruises, no bumps, no thanks to the jerk who sold me this car. That-"no-good, rotten, son of a bitch she added to herself-"salesman promised me there were airbags on both sides of this car. Both. That's why I bought it, certainly not for its aesthetic appeal." Damn him!
Men-from Aaron to her attorney to her accountant and now the used car salesman-had all double-crossed her when they got the chance. "We should get you to a doctor. I can't believe I forgot about Grant."
"Mom, you weren't going fast, the seat belt held me in place. I didn't budge. I'm okay and who's Grant?"
"Meddling Yankee general who's still pissing everyone off around here."
"Mom, the Civil War was a over a hundred and fifty years ago."
"That's what you think." A knock at the window made her jump. Mass-murderer? Kidnapper? But she was only three miles from the Landing, not exactly crime central.
The car door opened to the lower half of a rain-splattered leather jacket and the top half of snug jeans hanging low across lean hips. Male ... nicely put together male. And she was so done with anything male. Not that all men were pigs, she just attracted the ones who were.
She knew that voice. Quaid O'Fallon, local bad boy number one-at least for the younger set. She was forty so that made him about thirty-three. He peered into the car, rain skating off the brim of his cap and across his face. "Cynthia Landon?"
She needed to say something, and not that thirty-three never looked so good.
"Her maiden name is Landon," came Lawrence's voice from next to her. "I think she's in shock from running off the road but we're fine. We're on our way to Ivy Acres. Were you really in the Coast Guard or did you just buy that hat?"
Rain blew in waves, the wind howled, but Quaid didn't seem to notice. He grinned. Why the heck would he do that? This night sucked.
"Used to be Coast Guard. I'm Quaid O'Fallon and on my way home, right down the road from where you're headed." He eyed Cynthia. "My car's across the road. I can drive you."
Terrific green eyes, even in the dim light she could tell, or did she just remember? Where'd a man get eyes like that? Square jaw, stubbled chin she wanted to touch. Really good firm lips, not the squishy kind like Aaron's. Oh, crap, she was doing it again. If there was ever a wrong kind of guy, the adopted son of Rory O'Fallon topped the list.
"No," Cynthia blurted. "I thank you for the offer but Lawrence and I can manage fine on our own." And she could, dammit. Landons depended on no one.
Quaid cut his gaze from one end of the car to the other. "You're stuck knee-deep in Tennessee soup here. This car isn't budging. The sooner you come with me the sooner we all get to someplace dry."
She stepped on the accelerator, the wheels doing the spin thing and Quaid not bothering to move or even close the door in case the car did budge ... which it didn't. He shook his head in that know-it-all way men do. "It's not going to work, girl."
"I am a woman, not a girl, I can take care of everything." She killed the engine and lights, and reached under the front seat and retrieved her umbrella, holding it up in triumph. "My son and I will walk."
"Mom, Mr. O'Fallon said he'd give us a-"
"We're walking, Lawrence," she growled in her I-am-the-mother voice. "You and me together to your grandmother's house."
"It's raining, a lot."
"It's August, we won't melt." She stepped into the downpour, forcing Quaid to step back. She popped the umbrella and ignored Lawrence's sighs that suggested she'd clearly lost her mind, as he scooted across the seat. "You're behaving irrationally."
"You're eight. You don't know what irrational is."
"Lacking the power to reason. Contrary to reason. Senseless. Unreasonable. Absurd. In math it means-"
"Never mind. I should have known better than to say that. If it's in a book it's in your brain." She took his hand in hers. The wind rendered the umbrella useless as they splashed across the road more suited for rafts than cars, passing a Jeep, obviously Quaid's. But she was not giving in no matter how nice and dry and new the Jeep looked with its charcoal-gray metallic paint and dual airbags. "We have to stand on our own, Lawrence. Be self-sufficient. That's what Landons do."
"Can't we be self-sufficient when the sun's out?"
She held his hand a bit tighter to make him feel more secure. "We need to start now. A new beginning, just the two of us and your grandmother. That's why we're here." 'Course when she got home she wouldn't mind a little of her mother's pampering to get over the divorce, bankruptcy and the demise of Creations by Cynthia. She so missed her father. He'd know what to do, offer sage advice. The one true man in her life, a man who knew the meaning of family and caring for them, except he was gone three years now. The man had been a rock, a saint among men.
Lawrence said, "It's dark, we'll get hit by a car."
And then it suddenly wasn't dark where they walked. The Jeep followed, yellow caution lights flashing, lighting the way. Lawrence was drenched and he'd been through enough with leaving friends, private school, midtown brownstone, his favorite chocolate cannoli.
She flagged down the Jeep to stop, then slogged her way to the passenger side and pulled open the door. "Get in, Lawrence." She closed the door behind him and he powered down the window. "Now what are you doing, Mom?"
She straightened her shoulders, a rivulet of rain slipping between her shoulder blades, chilling her to the bone. "Walking to Ivy Acres."
Quaid looked from Lawrence to Cynthia Landon, splashing down the road in front of the Jeep, umbrella blowing inside out, rain ruining her skimpy shoes. Even with all that, she moved with the same damn stuck-up prissiness as when he'd seen her that first time nineteen years ago, parading her stuck-up prissy poodle with a rhinestone collar all over town. Quaid had given an appreciative wolf whistle, she'd given him a kiss-my-ass look, and since he was fifteen and horny and she twenty-two and a fox, he would have been happy to oblige.
She wore a yellow sundress then, her hair gold in the sunlight. Tonight her hair clumped together and her dress hung wet and ruined, but she had the same curvy hips, long legs, and she really did have a terrific ass.
Lawrence said, "I think she's delusional."
Quaid thought she's a damn snob and still hot as hell. He said, "Tough day?"
"Rotten year." Lawrence slouched into the upholstery, looking small and alone as he stared out the rain-streaked window. "She divorced my dad and her business flopped. We're broke and my dad's a loser. We're screwed."
Quaid ruffled the boy's hair. He knew all about tough times and being alone ... till Rory O'Fallon came along and made him his son. "Sometimes other people know what's best for you even when you don't." He killed the engine. Damn, stubborn female. "Stay put, I'll get your mom."
"She's not going to like you interfering."
"She'll get over it, she's young."
"She's not that young."
Quaid chuckled even though he was tired to the bone from the long drive. He stepped out into the storm. Something was eating Cynthia Landon, something that made her walk home in a Tennessee monsoon. Well, he'd been rescuing people for five years and wasn't about to stop with a change in the geography. Do the job and then go home, that was the drill.
"Hey," he said as he jogged up to Cynthia, headlights silhouetting her against the darkness.
"What?" she yelled over the wind. She shivered but acted as if it didn't happen.
"You're wet, cold and tired, we're all tired. Get the hell in the car and let's get out of here."
She gave him an incredulous look. "No."
"Fuck." He snagged the umbrella and tossed it into the ditch, her eyes rounding. He remembered the color, blue. Ocean blue.
"For your information that was Fendi."
"For your information it's broken and useless and you are a pain in the ass."
"Look, did I ask you to stop? No. Men, they think they know everything." She snorted and spun around and stomped off, splashing water with each step. He moved in front of her, eyes beady, jaw set as she said, "Get out of my way. I'm walking here."
"Not on my watch." He leaned down and flipped her over his shoulder, rescue style, like he'd done a hundred times before on the job ... except ... except ... Holy shit, Sherlock! None of them had been Cynthia Landon over his shoulder. He went hot and hard from head to foot, nearly losing his balance. Some rescue guy he was.
"Put me down!" She wiggled and pushed against his back, making him hold her all the harder. "Are you out of your mind?"
Her stomach rested on his shoulder, hip against his neck, breasts pressed to his back, his arm over her shapely calves. Did she have to wiggle? Every fiber of his body wanted her-pigheaded snob and all-right now in the pouring rain in the middle of the road. Horniness rode him harder now than nineteen years ago and that was going some. He headed to the Jeep and deposited Cynthia neatly into the back seat as she glared, eyes blazing, lips full and lush and tempting as hell. If her son weren't in the front seat he'd take the kiss and put an end to this.
"I can walk! I want to walk! I know-"
He slammed the door shut, climbed into the driver side and headed for Ivy Acres, the only sound the rain hammering the car and Cynthia Landon James grinding her teeth.
The driveway wound to the house with four columns that always impressed the hell out of him. "Here you go, m'lady."
"And I would have gotten here just fine on my own, without your infernal interference."
He turned and faced her mostly because he wanted another look into those eyes. "Why is it so important that you walk? What's the big-" he swallowed fucking because of the kid "-deal?"
"I needed the exercise. There, now you know. Happy?" She stepped from the car, then opened the passenger side and took Lawrence's elbow.
"Thanks for the ride, Mr. O'Fallon."
"Name's Quaid." He took off his hat and slid it on Lawrence's head, the brim sliding down to the top of his glasses and putting a huge grin on his face. Mother and son darted for the front porch, Lawrence waving frantically, Cynthia doing her I-am-princess strut. A brass light suspended from a chain swayed in the wind, making the place look snootier than ever, then the door finally opened letting the two inside.
"Good riddance." Quaid drove back to Cynthia's crammed-full station wagon and locked it up. Why'd she leave New York?-and from the looks of it Cynthia and son really were moving back home.
Home. The word stuck in Quaid's brain as he again passed Ivy Acres, then Hastings House perched on the next rise. He Y'd right then into the drive of the rambling white frame O'Fallon house set on the bluff. Gravel crunched, oaks lined the yard, and he knew the Mississippi rolled just beyond-full of fire and hell on a night like this. He killed the engine, doused the lights and sat in the dark, losing track of time, feeling himself settle back into the rhythm of life on the river. Four guys, one house and a lot of good times.
Then the not so good time-the before Rory O'Fallon time-clawed its way into his brain. He shivered. Hadn't he buried memories of his asshole grandfather so deep they'd never find their way out? Meeting Lawrence must have triggered it. Eight. Eight was when Pete took him in, when his mother said to hell with parenthood. He shoved the memories away, locking them out for good.
The rain slackened, leaving the scent of warm wet earth, humid night air and the river ... always the river. Max pranced across the yard, tail wagging, yellow ball clamped in his teeth. Quaid got out and scratched Max behind the ears as water dripped from the trees and a tow growled out in the channel. A linehauler, some big mother of a tow, pushing a string of barges upstream against the current in a storm. His blood stirred. He was really home.
"Who gave you the bandana, boy? Says you're a Super Dog? I bet there's no living with you these days."
Max danced in circles then dropped the ball at Quaid's feet. "We'll do catch tomorrow. You go running in the mud and mess up the house and we'll both be in hot water. And I don't know about you but I got my mind set on some of Dad's fried chicken."
He snatched his duffle and ambled across the brick path, dog following. They passed the boxwoods that led to the planter filled with pink flowers by the side door. He'd let himself in, raid the fridge, sleep on the couch, no need waking everyone in the middle of the night ... least that was the plan till he turned the knob, an alarm split the quiet and the house lit up like a Christmas tree.
Max barked and Quaid stepped back and took in the show. If fireworks blasted from the chimney he wouldn't have been surprised. "I'll be damned. What the hell's going on around here?"
The door flew open on Rory in a pair of blue boxer shorts, no shirt, his granddaddy's Civil War sword firmly in hand and raised for battle. Quaid would have paid a month's salary for a camera.
"Christ in a sidecar, boy, what the hell are you doing here?" He lowered the blade. "You're supposed to be in Alaska, fishing folks out of the drink."
"And you're supposed to be sleeping."
"What the hell do you think I was doing dressed like this, going to church? Kids!" He punched numbers on a keypad by the door that had never been there before. That killed the alarm, except there was another noise, piercing, like an air raid siren.
"Two alarms? What do you have in here, Fort Knox?"
"Piss and vinegar!" Rory groused as he raked his hand through his graying hair, which stuck out in all directions. "I got better than gold, but the sound that can strip varnish from wood is your mighty unhappy little sister cutting up a ruckus, all thanks to you. Now she's awake and no one's getting any more sleep tonight. Damnation!"
"That sound is ... Bonnie?" Quaid followed Rory inside. "Thought babies cooed and giggled. That's what the ones on TV do."
"Well, this baby never read the damn script." Rory took off for the hall in a jog. "You better come on. 'Bout time you met her, get to lose sleep like the rest of us."
Quaid kicked off his wet shoes and hung his wet jacket over the newel post. He climbed the stairs behind Rory, who yelled to be heard over the din, "Keefe's shooting his last episodes on that soap opera so he's gone back to New York and Callie, his gal, is packing up her stuff in Atlanta to move here. Ryan and Effie are finishing up their business in San Diego and should show up any day now. Thelma and Conrad are working their butts off to make a go of the drydock and turn Hastings House into a bed and breakfast."
Quaid yelled back, "So it's just you and the baby in this big house?"
"And now you. We'll put those survival skills you learned at search and rescue to work, because I sure could use some help. Bonnie's got a real willful streak."
"Can't imagine where she gets that," Quaid said on a laugh as he slapped Rory on the back. They entered the room, Rory switching on a bunny lamp, and Quaid added, "Think you got enough pink stuff in here?"
Excerpted from I'll Be Seeing U by Dianne Castell Copyright © 2006 by Dianne Kruetzkamp. Excerpted by permission.
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